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Sierra Leone's Police Fill Security Role Following UN Departure


Sierra Leone is being watched as a test case for other post-conflict countries as national police take on many of the security roles once filled by United Nations peacekeepers. Kari Barber recently accompanied a police unit on night patrols in the capital, Freetown, and talked with officers about the challenges and responsibilities they face.

During Sierra Leone's presidential runoff earlier this month, police broke up what they say were attempts to disrupt the voting. They say rocks and bottles found in the back of this car at a polling station were intended to be used as weapons.

The army also played a larger security role during the presidential election, the first without the presence of U.N. troops since the end of Sierra Leone's civil war in 2002. Peacekeepers withdrew from the West African country two years ago.

Much of the responsibility for the nation's security has come into the hands of armed police patrol units that U.N. and British forces trained after the war. The armed units perform 24-hour patrols of the city and deploy trucks to areas of heightened tension.

Captain Mohammed Bangura says he feels proud to serve his nation. "This is the place where I find myself. So if I find myself as a police, I get to work as a police and I get to serve my nation."

Sometimes armed only with sticks, police hold back crowds and try to cover a vast area with a force of less than 10,000 men and women.

Bangura says logistics are often difficult. "Who authorized you to move from this location?" begins an encounter with another policeman. " I am at this look and you are not here. Who authorized you?"

During the 11-year civil war, police were unable to safeguard the country. Alfred Sesay says he had just begun work as a policeman when the war began. "It was difficult because we were not capable and that time we were not mature enough. But as time goes on we are used to the game, so from that time to now we know that war is our game. So we do not have any fear, we do not have any panic."

Night falls as police patrol an area of recent clashes between rival political groups. Police say markets also are areas of high crime at night.

Captain Bangura says as head of the group he feels personally responsible for the nation's security. "I am resting from four, five, six until seven. Then I believe I will be rested and will come back to the office to see that everything is going smoothly."

With one unit returned to base, another group sets out for a 12-hour patrol shift to ensure all is calm in the capital.